Letter from Geraldine Jewsbury to Emma Stebbins, Feb 6, 1877
While working on the memoir of Charlotte Cushman, Emma Stebbins has made a request to Jewsbury, asking for her letters from 30 years ago. Although there are no 'secrets' in those letters, Jewsbury seems reluctant to hand them to Stebbins. The requested letters are about Cushman's early days in England. Cushman came to England with her "faithful" maid Sallie, struggling to start her career there. Struggles in Cushman's life extended to her family, Charlotte's father died an early death and her mother always preferred her younger sister. Susan performed with Charlotte even though she was not a very good actress as Jewsbury admits. Yet, Cushman's effort to help her family and her perseverance on stage garnered great admiration from Jewsbury. The letter continues to mention Cushman's acting and a failed courting which may relate to E. B. Fisher (Stebbins mentioned something similar in a letter to Lanier in 1876). However, the Cushman-Fisher correspondence dates back to the year 1836 and may be a bit too early for what Jewsbury refers to. Additionally, Jewsbury mentions that Cushman "broke the acquaintance" when she discovered that he was "not honourable" and Fisher's letters suggest that it was rather him and not Cushman who cut all ties.
Jewsbury also indulges in the (false) claims that Macready invited Cushman to England though she acknowledges that they were not very good friends.
Stebbins quotes extensively from this letter, but omits the last paragraph in which Jewsbury shares her misgivings about being quoted in full: "I trust to you that no names or +++ references of a personal nature shall be introduced – one writes carelessy & on the impulse of the moment one writes many things wh. one wd wish very much 'to blot.'"
Waters' biography of Cushman, too, quotes from this letter (64-65). Waters calls Jewsbury a "friend" of Cushman.
CreditLibrary of Congress, Charlotte Cushman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Letter Item Type Metadata
your letter of January 7 reached me here two days ago. I am obliged for the kind & considerate manner in wh. you write. I have frequently heard of you both from Mr. & Mrs. Dilglue [Dilberoglue]. so you are no stranger to me. With regard to my letters – it is always startling to be suddenly confronted with oneself of more than thirty years ago – things & people might be carelessly mentioned in a way that one
[3462 reverse] wd not now speak of them but certainly there were no secrets. at least I know of none If there is any thing in these old letters wh wd be of service to you I can have no objection to their doing that service & I feel assured of your faith & honour – still I wd like to know what it is that you desire to put in print & if you cd get those portions or passages copied wh. you desire to use. & wd let me see them. They wd. bring to my mind many now forgotten circumstances & I cd give you a more perfect
 account of these early days of Miss Cushman’s sojourn in England – I will however tell you now as much as I can recollect – but I cannot even remember the exact year – I think it wd be 1846 or 1847 – but it was very shortly (a few weeks indeed) after she arrived in England for the first time +++ Mr. Heraud the poet a dramatist [last two words inserted] wrote to me about her & gave her a letter to me in Manchester where I then resided with my +++ youngest brother. She came – she was alone except for Sally her faithful maid – who I hope is still alive. & if so I beg to be remembered to her kindy I suppose Miss Cushman
[3463 reverse] was not handsome – but the beautiful true & firm grey eyes – gave one the impression of beauty. & supplied the lack of it. if it were lacking, to me she always looked beautiful. Her voice too was true & real like herself & of a tone that was very pleasant to the ear. – She conveyed the impression of protecting protection & strength - In those day she had not begun the fight & struggle of her professional carreer in England. She had appeared in London in the +++ Fazio. as Bianca &
 had made a certain impression wh. promised well for [last two words inserted] her future success. She told me herself about her first appearance. – She had come to England with slender means & a certain reputation acquired in America. but she was alone & without friends to help her or to back her up. She told me how ill & anxious she was. & apparently quite unfit to act that first high The first act went without any marked effect & Sally had to comfort her in her dressing room by
[3464 reverse] practical observations on the drama itself & when the strong effect began– She went on again. desperate & determined - & the success from that instant to the end was secured - & the applause told her she had the audience under her spell. – She went home to her lodgings - not comfortably ones - & then the revulsion came. She felt miserable & lonely – and she cried herself sick & then Sally brought her a mutton chop she had cooked herself - & made her eat it - & then
 said [inserted] Miss Cushman "I write a long letter to my mother & went to bed. I felt no fear but what I shd get on in some way [last three words inserted] +++" – She told me all this one afternoon when she cd. be quiet - & had come to be with me for a few hours It was only then, at that very commencement of her carreer that she had leisure to be quiet & cd. talk out of her heart. – She told me about her early life after her father's death, how the family in great measure depended on her. She had been previously with Clara Fisher & her husband (I forget her married name) she had then a magnificent voice
[3465 reverse] contralto. but she fell ill & it left her entirely. & it [...] as tho’ there were nothing in the world left that she cd do – then she went on the stage – drudged – to help her family & she increased her salary by copying out the different lengths of different pieces for the use of the persons +++ for the characters. She worked very hard. & learned her business by practice. – She acted with Macready when he was in America & I believe he encouraged her to come to England tho’ they were never great friends. – In Manchester she made many friends. quiet domestic people who regarded her
 with affection & respect. & she made a favourable impression as an actress & obtained good terms from the Manager. When her sister & mother joined her she had a more difficult load to carry – her sister She was very strong in her family attachment – her sister tho’ very pretty was not much of an actress – but was always included in her engagements Her mother had the faculty of being always discontented & Miss Cushman had much to hear from her. – The younger daughter Susan was her mother's favourite +++ Miss Cushman's carrees became a hard battle. a hand
[3466 reverse] to hand fight for place & name. She was noble, generous & gave help to all who needed it – & She had not the rest & peace with her own family wh. She deserved; - and. the turmoil & strife of these years told on her in every way. If she had left journals or +++ letters. the traces of that strife for fortune wd have appeared – She had many friends who loved & respected her – but no one to rest upon & no inner citadel to wh she might retreat – she had to fight every inch of her way with her own hand - & one
 can only hope that few of the women who are now seeking careers & employment will have so hard a life. As she said once to me herself "She tried always to keep her prow set towards good -" – & I feel sure desire [inserted] unlay the whole of her life – We lost sight of each other as was only natural in lives wh. lay in such different places. When she was ill the last year she was in England I wrote to her but she was too ill to see me. Then came her apparent recovery and then – the unexpected end when all her friends had begun to hope +++ all danger [last two words inserted]
[3467 reverse] had passed[?]) of her acting in some of her character I retain a vivid recollection Her "Meg Merrilies" and that strange silent +++ into the front of the stage wh was her entrace on it can be never forgotten. not the tones of her voice. +++ wh seemed to come from another world. Madme Vestris once told her. that" Meg Merrilies had made & her turn cold" She +++ she crooned in the part. was exactly what as Meg Merrilies wd have given it. & suggested no other person & no acting Indeed all her character w singulary true – I never She never seemed to display herself any way  I remember her Mrs Haller in the "Stranger" she seemed to absorb & consume all the false sentiment. the intolerable priggeshness of the "Stranger". &all the mawkish sentimentals of the whole piece. and to elicit only the broad real suffering of the characters & the tragical truth that nothing can undo deeds once done It was I think her best the character that in wh she [last three words inserted] most impressed me. I saw the first performance of her Romeo. & whatever may a woman taking the part be said against the fact it was a most effective performance
[3468 reverse] it suggested the at a full conception of the character even if it did not fulfil it to the utmost Her Lady Macbeth, I do not remember, - she played it when I saw her. with G. V. Brooke who was then at his best. – I remember too seeing her once. in a version of Beaumont & Fletcher's "scornful Lady" wh. was extremely bright & clever – I must have seen her in other characters but I do not recollect them – yes – I once saw her in Fazio
 & I know I admired it – but my recollection is not distinct I never saw her act in London She chief characteristic of her acting as I remember it was its intense earnestness & directness. & the absence of all evidence of self [inserted] consciousness or if any desire to produce make the spectator think of the actress In these days she used to sing in private [last two words inserted] in a very dramatic remarkable manner. not a note of voice– but its place supplied by her power of utterances It seemed as tho’ her will did every thing – always retained a real regard
[3469 reverse] & respect for her — one incident in her life. she once told me - but it cd hardly be used in print. but one +++ wish the spirit of it to be given for the [inserted] help & strengthening of those who might be in a similar case[?] She was, before she came to England & still a druge drudge on the Boards, much attracted to a young man in a high position of life. Who to her seemed the impersonation of all that was elegant & refined he had courted her – +++ but [inserted] she discovered that his intent was not honourable – nor "his purpose marriage" - & She broke the acquaintance at once
 she spoke of the resolution it required to avoid meeting him. or seeing him how she had concealed herself as he possed close by her. almost touching her. – She told me this in a way I have never forgotten, - When I said. You were strong". - "I, strong, child! I was as weak as water but I was kept from harm." After this she got an a strolling[?] [last two words inserted] engagement & then she went on to tell me all the fun & the hardship & the excitements of that Tour[?] wh. put all wh. cleared her heart & brain of all cobwebs. and now I have told you all I can recollect you can make whatever
[3470 reverse] use you please of this letter I think the record of the simple handed strife she carried on & the uprighness with wh. she attained at last her fortune & success will be a help & comfort to many who are now struggling in various grades & conditions of life — If you accede to my request to see those portions of my letters you wish to use I wd return them to you & along with them any incidents of wh they might recal to my memory — In
 any case I trust to you that no names or +++ references of a personal nature shall be introduced – one writes carelessy & on the impulse of the moment one writes many things wh. one wd wish very much "to blot"! I am dear Madame ys [yours] very truly
Geraldine E. Jewsbury
to Miss Stebbinss 16 East. 43d Street New York
I have no letters of Miss Cushman many years ago I destroyed
[3471 reverse] nearly all the letters I possess written by any one - I had no room to keep them and I preferred destroying them to leaving them after +++ to any accidents.